Tales from Rivvy’s Kitchen – braised red cabbage
This is a very special dish that we have as an accompaniment to special family roasts, especially at the holidays – Christmas, New Year, Easter etc. It’s a flavour that never fails to make me think of home and family and warmth. I made it by special request this Christmas for a couple of officers that my mum has cooked it for in the past, so I thought I’d share this old family recipe with you.
1 red cabbage, sliced
1 large or 2 small cooking apples, peeled and cubed
15 – 20 cloves
6 – 10 juniper berries
3 tbsp sugar
1 cup vinegar
Place the cabbage, apple, juniper berries, vinegar and sugar in a large pan.
Leaving the onion whole, peel it and then stud it with the cloves. The easiest way to do this is to prick holes in the outer layer with the tip of a knife or a skewer and then push the stalks of the cloves into it. Add this to the pan also.
Stir gently to mix everything up, cover and then simmer over a low to medium heat for an hour and a half, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is soft and a dark, dark red and the apple has all disappeared.
It really is that simple. Take the onion out and serve.
This is a very aromatic dish but juniper is not to everyone’s taste (it tastes like gin) so perhaps check with your guests. I’d also advise against eating the whole spices, particularly the cloves if any of them fall out of the onion during the cooking process. The last thing you need when eating a roast is for half your mouth to go numb.
With regard to the vinegar, it can be made with any kind, from the cheapest malt to the nicest red wine vinegar. It really doesn’t matter, but for a super special flavour you can make it with red wine vinegar and add a splash of port.
Likewise with the sugar – you can use any kind. Brown sugar will give you a less sweet, more molasses flavour. It’s really up to personal taste.
I cook this on the hob, but at Christmas the only dish my friend had that was big enough to take a whole cabbage was an oven dish. In the spirit of adventuring, I decided to try it in the oven. It did work but it required more stirring and the cabbage didn’t go as dark. It also took 2 hours, instead of an hour and a half, so bear that in mind if you would rather oven cook this dish than cook it on the hob. I strongly suspect it would work in a slow cooker too, but be prepared for it to take a couple of hours for the apple to break down.
One of the nicest things about this dish is that you can prepare it well in advance, even the day before. The apple will brown, but it’s invisible in the finished product so it doesn’t matter. If you want to cook it in advance, make sure it’s stored with a cover over it and it will reheat perfectly in the microwave.
Finally, I’ve seen and tasted variations of this made with raisins and even orange zest and segments. I like to stick with the traditional dish because of the feelings it evokes, but the variations are delicious. Don’t be afraid to experiment! It lends itself to the addition of fruit, so add fresh or dried cranberries and even try dried apricots.
As an aside, it’s called braised red cabbage because braising is the term for the process of cooking something over a low heat for a long time. You may sometimes see it referring to joints of meat – they’ve usually been slow-cooked for 4 – 6 hours.